A Holocaust survivor’s memoir of love in a Nazi concentration camp, which was yanked from publication last month when he admitted it was a hoax, could reappear as a work of fiction.
Berkley Books, a unit of Penguin Books, has canceled a planned publication of Herman Rosenblat’s memoir, “Angel at the Fence.”
But York House Press, a small publishing house based in White Plains, New York, has said it was “in serious discussion” to publish the book as a work of fiction.
“We believe Mr. Rosenblat’s motivations were very human, understandable and forgivable,” York House Press said in a statement, adding that the book, tentatively titled “Flower at the Fence,” would be “grounded in fact.”
“We understand the dismay at this event of Holocaust historians who work tirelessly to assert the facts of the Holocaust and who must ensure the integrity of unimpeachable survivor accounts as a way to counter anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers of which there are still far too many.”
In what US celebrity host Oprah Winfrey once called the “greatest love story,” Rosenblat said that during his World War II captivity in the German concentration camp of Schlieben, a branch of the Buchenwald camp, a girl threw him apples over a fence every day to help him survive.
Rosenblat, now 79, married the girl, Roma Radzicki of Poland twelve years later after having immigrated to New York. The couple are still married and live in Florida.
His story, which has inspired a children’s book and a screenplay, first gained public attention when Rosenblat won a literary contest organized by the New York Post in 1995.
But experts told The New Republic magazine in December that a civilian could not have thrown apples at a prisoner over the concentration camp’s fence. Rosenblat later admitted through his agent, Andrea Hurst, that the apple-throwing detail had been fabricated.
“That he was able to meet at a fence with a girl in hiding every day through the winter months of 1945 without anybody knowing, or anybody seeing… it’s just not plausible,” Kenneth Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, told the left-leaning magazine.
“She couldn’t get to the fence on her side, he couldn’t get to the fence on his side. They didn’t meet at the fence.”
After receiving new information from Rosenblat’s agent, Berkley Books said in a December 27 statement that it “will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work.” It had planned to publish a memoir by Rosenblat in February.
Atlantic Overseas Pictures (AOP) said it would “proceed with production of the movie,” which will now be presented as a fiction film.
“The documented fact, acknowledged by his critics, is that Herman is a survivor of concentration camps. He found a way to tell his story and bring a message against hate. It is his story. It is this story to which the world has responded,” AOP president Harris Salomon said in a statement.
Lerner Publishing has canceled pending reprints of the children’s book, “Angel Girl,” which was first published in September 2008.
“While this tragic event in world history needs to be taught to children, it is imperative that it is done so in a factual way that doesn’t sacrifice veracity for emotional impact,” Lerner president and publisher said in a statement, adding that returned books would be refunded.
“We have been misled by the Rosenblats, who gave us and our author what we believed to be an authentic and moving account of their lives.”
The case has also fueled a debate about the impact of false testimony and its effect on memory of the Holocaust.
“There is no reason to aggrandize or exaggerate anything about the Holocaust,” said Warsaw ghetto historian Emanuel Ringelblum.
Brandon Public Relations president Michael Friedman, whose firm helps Holocaust survivors, said it was “unfortunate that people fabricate a story…. Although it is not the first time this happens.”
Friedman blamed talk show host Winfrey, whose show has massive appeal among American women, for not taking better care to verify the details of the story before her broadcast.
“Oprah Winfrey should better screen the books as far as the Holocaust is concerned. At her book club, it becomes an instant best-seller, so it spreads,” said Friedman.
Historian Deborah Lipstadt, who specializes in the Holocaust, said the apples incident would most likely be removed from the new version to be published by York House Press.